Could Airport Blues Change The Sequester Narrative?

The most powerful voting bloc: annoyed airplane passengers.

Alan Diaz / AP

WASHINGTON — Last weekend, around 200 international passengers missed their flights and stayed overnight in the Miami airport thanks to customs delays airport officials said were caused by the sequester. Florida TV news featured images of of angry passengers chanting in frustration as they watched their flights come and go.

The long delays at the Miami customs check so far aren’t affecting departing passengers. But airport officials delays could come to domestic flights next month when sequester cuts might lead to TSA staff cuts.

For Democrats and a White House hoping the across-the-board cuts will create a public push for Republicans to abandon their opposition to revenue, the images were political gold. For Republicans trying to balance outrage over the sequester’s impact at home versus the Republican opposition in Washington to cutting a deal with Obama to end the sequester with tax hikes, the news in Miami could be a bad political omen.

Before the sequester took effect, Republicans criticized the White House for overhyping the consequences of the cuts. And so far, many have felt vindicated in that skepticism.

“The president kind of led the charge to say widows and orphans are going to be out on the street, so when it didn’t happen, he actually himself had to step back on Friday and say it wasn’t going to happen that way,” former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said earlier this month. “We’re going to have significant cuts in defense spending and discretionary spending for sure, but I think it was oversold.”

Bush said Obama and his allies did “a lot of crying wolf” in advance of the sequester cuts kicking in.

Upset air travelers have already led some Republicans in Congress to complain about the sequester’s local impact, even as their party continues to dig in their heels against Obama’s call for increased revenue as part of any deal to stop it, leading to gridlock and the sequester’s continued implementation. Democrats have tried pushing the myriad local stories about the sequester’s impact on the ground level, but so far the public outrage Democrats and their allies were sure would push the GOP to the bargaining table hasn’t manifested itself.

Could airports be the battlefield where Democrats win on sequester messaging?

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned Republicans in February that airport blues might be the tipping point for those who think they can ride the sequester out.

“Your phones are going to start ringing off the hook when these people are delayed at airports, and their flights are delayed 90 minutes, or their flights are cancelled, or their air tower is closed,” LaHood said he told Republicans in a briefing with reporters.

On Tuesday, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran used Senate ruled to hold a protest over the sequester cuts to rural airports. Moran is calling on Congress to restore the funding that would keep rural airport towers open and prevent other cuts at small airports. Moran’s office did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed.

Republicans still say the sequester won’t be as big a deal as Democrats have advertised — and there were media reports Wednesday suggesting they might be right. Reuters wrote that some economists are questioning the federal job cuts the CBO projected will be caused when the the sequester is fully implemented. Meanwhile, fights over the White House tours and other matters have led Republicans to feel comfortable letting the sequester play out. (Some conservatives are questioning sequester tales coming out of the Miami airport, as well.)

But if there are local news reports like the ones that came out of Miami’s airport this week, it could put sequester pain back in the spotlight, and Republicans under the gun.

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